Mars Research Crew Emerges After 8 Months of Isolation

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In this photo released by the University of Hawaii, Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, HI-SEAS Joshua Ehrlich, Mission Specialist of Biology emerges Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, from his habitat, after eight months of living in isolation in a Mars-like habitat in Mauna Loa volcano, Big Island, Hawaii. The six NASA-backed research subjects were studied by researchers to understand better the psychological impacts of a long-term manned mission to space would have on astronauts. NASA hopes to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. (HI-SEAS V crew/University of Hawaii via AP) The Associated Press

By CALEB JONES, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — Six NASA-backed research subjects who have been cooped up in a Mars-like habitat on a remote Hawaii volcano since January emerged from isolation Sunday. They devoured fresh-picked tropical fruits and fluffy egg strata after eating mostly freeze-dried food while in isolation and some vegetables they grew during their mission.

The crew of four men and two women are part of a study designed to better understand the psychological impacts a long-term space mission would have on astronauts.

“It?s really gratifying to know that the knowledge gained here from our mission and the other missions that HI-SEAS has done will contribute to the future exploration of Mars and the future exploration of Space in general,” science officer Samuel Paylor said Sunday.

The data they produced will help NASA select individuals and groups with the right mix of traits to best cope with the stress, isolation and danger of a two-to-three year trip to Mars. The U.S. space agency hopes to send humans to the red planet by the 2030s.

The crew was quarantined for eight months on a vast plain below the summit of the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano. After finishing their stint, they feasted on pineapple, mango and papaya.

While isolated, the crew members wore space suits and travelled in teams whenever they left their small dome living structure. They ate mostly freeze-dried or canned food on their simulated voyage to Mars.

During the eight months in isolation, mission biology specialist Joshua Ehrlich grew fresh vegetables.

“Carrots, peppers, pak choy. Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, radishes, tomatoes, potatoes tons of parsley and oregano, I mean it was phenomenal, just that delicious fresh taste from home really was good,” Ehrlich said.

All of their communications with the outside world were subjected to a 20-minute delay — the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to Earth. The crew was tasked with conducting geological surveys, mapping studies and maintaining their self-sufficient habitat as if they were actually living on Mars.

The team’s information technology specialist, Laura Lark, thinks a manned voyage to Mars is a reasonable goal for NASA. The project is the fifth in a series of six NASA-funded studies at the University of Hawaii facility called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS. NASA has dedicated about $2.5 million for research at the facility.

“There are certainly human factors to be figured out, that’s part of what HI-SEAS is for,” Lark said in a video message recorded within the dome. “But I think that overcoming those challenges is just a matter of effort. We are absolutely capable of it.”

The crew played games designed to measure their compatibility and stress levels and maintained logs about how they were feeling.

To gauge their moods they also wore specially-designed sensors that measured voice levels and proximity to other people in the, 1,200 square-foot (111-square meter) living space.

The devices could sense if people were avoiding one another, or if they were “toe-to-toe” in an argument, said the project’s lead investigator, University of Hawaii professor Kim Binsted.

“We’ve learned, for one thing, that conflict, even in the best of teams, is going to arise,” Binsted said. “So what’s really important is to have a crew that, both as individuals and a group, is really resilient, is able to look at that conflict and come back from it.”

The study also tested ways to help the crew cope with stress. When they became overwhelmed, they could use virtual reality devices to take them away to a tropical beach or other familiar landscapes.

Other Mars simulation projects exist around the world, but Hawaii researchers say one of the chief advantages of their project is the area’s rugged, Mars-like landscape, on a rocky, red plain below the summit of Mauna Loa.

The crew’s vinyl-covered shelter is about the size of a small two-bedroom home, has small sleeping quarters for each member plus a kitchen, laboratory and bathroom. The group shared one shower and has two composting toilets.

Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear

Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm, Liverpool

Energy from offshore wind in the UK will be cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power for the first time.

The cost of subsidies for new offshore wind farms has halved since the last 2015 auction for clean energy projects

Two firms said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a guaranteed price of £57.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23.

This compares with the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant securing subsidies of £92.50 per megawatt hour.

Nuclear firms said the UK still needed a mix of low-carbon energy, especially for when wind power was not available.

‘Truly astonishing’

The figures for offshore wind, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, were revealed as the result of an auction for subsidies, in which the lowest bidder wins.

In the auction in 2015, offshore wind farm projects won subsidies between £114 and £120 per megawatt hour.

Emma Pinchbeck, from the wind energy trade body Renewable UK, told the BBC the latest figures were “truly astonishing”.

“We still think nuclear can be part of the mix – but our industry has shown how to drive costs down, and now they need to do the same.”

Bigger turbines, higher voltage cables and lower cost foundations, as well as growth in the UK supply chain and the downturn in the oil and gas industry have all contributed to falling prices.

The newest 8 megawatt offshore turbines stand almost 200 metres high, taller than London’s Gherkin building. But Ms Pinchbeck said the turbines would double in size in the 2020s.

Nuclear ‘still needed’

However, the nuclear industry said that because wind power is intermittent, nuclear energy would still be needed.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “It doesn’t matter how low the price of offshore wind is. On last year’s figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time.”

EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, said the UK still needed a “diverse, well-balanced” mix of low-carbon energy.

“New nuclear remains competitive for consumers who face extra costs in providing back-up power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine,” the French firm said.

“There are also costs of dealing with excess electricity when there is too much wind or sun.”

EDF added that energy from new nuclear plants would become cheaper as the market matures, as has happened with offshore wind.

Eyes will be raised at this suggestion, as nuclear power has already received subsidies since the 1950s. But storage of surplus energy from offshore wind is still a challenge.

‘Energy revolution’

Onshore wind power and solar energy are already both cost-competitive with gas in some places in the UK.

And the price of energy subsidies for offshore wind has now halved in less than three years.

Energy analysts said UK government policy helped to lower the costs by nurturing the fledgling industry, then incentivising it to expand – and then demanding firms should bid in auction for their subsidies.

Minister for Energy and Industry Richard Harrington said: “We’ve placed clean growth at the heart of the Industrial Strategy to unlock opportunities across the country, while cutting carbon emissions.

“The offshore wind sector alone will invest £17.5bn in the UK up to 2021 and thousands of new jobs in British businesses will be created by the projects announced today.”

Media captionWorld’s first floating offshore wind farm in Scotland

Michael Grubb, professor of energy policy at University College London, called the cost reduction “a huge step forward in the energy revolution”.

“It shows that Britain’s biggest renewable resource – and least politically problematic – is available at reasonable cost.

“It’ll be like the North Sea oil and gas industry: it started off expensive, then as the industry expanded, costs fell. We can expect offshore wind costs to fall more, too,” he said.

The subsidies, paid from a levy on consumer bills, will run for 15 years – unlike nuclear subsidies for Hinkley C which run for 35 years.

This adds to the cost advantage offshore wind has now established over new nuclear.

Prof Grubb estimated the new offshore wind farms would supply about 2% of UK electricity demand, with a net cost to consumers of under £5 per year.

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “This massive price drop for offshore wind is a huge boost for the renewables industry and should be the nail in the coffin for new nuclear.

“The government’s undying commitment to new nuclear risks locking us into sky high prices for years to come. Put simply, this news should be the death knell for Hinkley C nuclear station.”

Hinkley Point C constructionImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionConstruction of the Hinkley Point plant is under way after government approval last year

Along with three offshore wind farm projects, biomass and energy from waste plants have secured subsidies for low-carbon energy, with a total of 11 successful schemes in the latest auction.

The £57.50 for new offshore wind power is not a true subsidy. It is a “strike price” – a guaranteed price to the generating firm for power it supplies.

When the wholesale market price for electricity is below that price, payments to the firm are made up with a levy on consumers.

However, when the wholesale price is above the strike price, the generator pays the difference back. It is a way of providing a certain return on investment for large energy projects.

It is impossible to predict what the final additional cost to consumers will be because it depends on market conditions, but it will almost certainly be a fraction of the strike price itself.

Experts warn that in order to meet the UK’s long term climate goals, additional sources of low-carbon energy will still be needed.

Tackling the canine obesity crisis

Labrador being offered a treat

When it comes to man’s best friend, science may finally have solved the mystery of their gluttony – some Labradors, it seems, are genetically predisposed to being hungry.

That’s according to scientists who were discussing their ongoing mission to improve our favourite pets’ health at the British Science Association Festival in Brighton.

Several research teams in the UK are on a mission to improve canine health.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have studied the appetite of Britain’s favourite dog breed, and suggest Labradors are genetically at risk of becoming overweight.

Roughly a quarter of British households own a pet dog, and Labrador retrievers remain our most popular canine companion.

However, this stereotypically “greedy” breed often suffers size-related health problems.

Blame the owners?

“Obesity is a serious issue for our dog population,” says Dr Eleanor Raffan from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science.

“It has the potential to have a massive impact on pet welfare.”

In research supported by the Dogs Trust, Dr Raffan and her colleagues have analysed DNA from the saliva of Labradors across the UK. They found that particularly greedy individuals possess a gene mutation responsible for increasing their appetite.

“We found around a quarter of pet Labradors have at least one copy of this mutation in the gene,” Dr Raffan explains. Their increased appetite manifests itself as a “food obsession”, familiar to dog-owners as begging or scavenging for food.

In the past, the onus has been on owners to restrict the diet of their pets to prevent excessive weight gain.

But Dr Raffan’s research suggests the propensity for large appetites, and hence potential obesity, is hardwired into some individuals.

“We hope to shift the paradigm away from owner-blaming” says Dr Raffan. “It’s a bit more nuanced than just owners needing to be careful.”

Freedom from hunger

Dr Raffan cautions against any attempt to breed this “greedy mutation” out of Labrador lines. While it might predispose the dogs to obesity, a strong focus on food may also explain why Labradors are so easy to train and are such loyal human companions.

“If we try to get rid of the mutation, we might find we change the personality of the breed, and that would be a real shame,” she explains.

Yet their results raise an ethical conundrum. Owners and veterinary surgeons are responsible for providing five core so-called freedoms to animals in their care, including freedom from pain and disease, and freedom from hunger.

Obesity is a disease, and negatively impacts upon canine quality of life. “But equally, being hungry is a welfare issue,” says Dr Raffan. “And these dogs are genetically hungry.”

Dr Raffan hopes future research will improve the satiety of their diets, allowing a feeling of “fullness” without the potential for excessive weight gain.

Bearing the weight

Being overweight undoubtedly reduces a dog’s quality of life, and can also affect their ability to cope with arthritis and other underlying joint disorders.

At the University of Liverpool, scientists are using state-of-the-art imaging technology to study diseases affecting the knee joints of Labradors.

Damage to the canine cruciate ligament, similar to the injuries commonly suffered by professional human athletes, is the most common orthopaedic problem seen in veterinary practices. Injury to the knee ligaments is also more common in heavier dog breeds

“We’re trying to understand how the shape of the Labrador body and the way they walk might contribute to knee problems,” says Prof Eithne Comerford, a specialist in musculoskeletal biology.

Using high-speed x-ray cameras, the researchers film their canine patients walking through the lab, and watch their knee bones slide and twist in real-time.

The team hopes to understand how walking contributes to the risk of ligament injury and rupture in Labradors, with the ultimate goal of reducing lameness and suffering within the breed.

“This data will also help veterinary surgeons and engineers design better treatments for ligament damage in Labradors, like customised knee implants,” explains biomechanist Dr Karl Bates from the University of Liverpool.

Both research groups rely heavily on the good will of Labrador owners, both for collecting samples and entering their pets into experimental trials.

In addition to tackling diagnosed health issues, researchers hope to change the public’s perception of what “desirable” traits should characterise our favourite breeds.

“There is a real danger when we breed dogs to be cuddlier and cuter,” warns Dr Raffan. “I think people have seen so many overweight Labradors, they start to assume it’s normal”.

Rhino horn smuggled as jewellery

Raw and carved rhino horn is sold primarily in Vietnam and China

Criminal networks smuggling rhino horn out of Africa are turning it into jewellery to evade its detection in airports, an investigation has found.

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic revealed an “emerging trend” of making and smuggling beads, bracelets and bangles and rhino horn powder.

The lead investigator told BBC News the trade in rhino horn was now “morphing” into a market for luxury items.

At least 7,100 rhinos are estimated to have been killed in Africa since 2007.

Today, about 25,000 of the animals remain.

Julian Rademeyer from Traffic explained that the production of rhino horn “trinkets” mirrored some of the patterns seen in the trade in ivory.

“It’s very worrying,” he told BBC News. “Because if someone’s walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them?

“Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns.”

Status symbol

The primary destinations for smuggled rhino horn remain the same; the largest markets are in China and Vietnam. But this investigation also found that smuggling routes constantly changed and adapted, becoming more complex in order to avoid countries and airports where law enforcement resources were being focused.

This shift in how horn is processed before it is moved could make it more difficult to detect.

“This is quite a preliminary assessment,” explained Mr Rademeyer, “but it’s vital that there’s information sharing about these new trends – particularly with law enforcement.”

He added that the market for medicinal rhino horn – believed by many to be a cure for a range of illnesses, from rheumatism to cancer – seemed to have “reduced somewhat”.

But owning rhino horn – particularly for wealthy men in Vietnam – is also seen as a status symbol.

“It’s about power – about showing off your wealth,” said Mr Rademeyer. “It’s been called the Ferrari factor – having something says you are wealthy and that you’re untouchable [by the law].”

Rhinos (c) TRAFFICImage copyrightTRAFFIC

Susie Offord-Woolley, managing director of the charity Save the Rhino International, said this kind of information was “essential” in order that law enforcement officers could be trained to identify rhino horn jewellery.

“The fact they’re carving [the horn] up now means these gangs are getting more concerned about security, and that’s a good sign,” she added.

At the current rate of poaching, Save the Rhino says that rhinos could be extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

“That’s what we’re all trying to avoid,” said Ms Offord-Woolley.

And while this is a fight to save a species, she added, “this also affects so many people”.

She added: “In last 10 years, 1,000 rangers have been killed in Africa while on patrol protecting rhinos.

Paris climate deal: US denies it will stay in accord

Smoke billows from chimneys at a chemical factory in Hefei, China. Archive photo

The US has insisted it will leave the Paris climate accord, despite reports that it may be softening its stance.

Following a meeting of environment ministers on Saturday, the EU climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, said Trump officials had indicated the US would either stay in the 2015 accord or review its terms.

But the White House insisted there had been “no change” in the US position.

In June President Donald Trump said the US would withdraw from the deal.

He said it was part of his “solemn duty to protect America” and he would seek a new deal that would not disadvantage US businesses.

But opponents say withdrawing from the accord is an abdication of US leadership on a key global challenge.

The Paris agreement commits the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C.

Only Syria and Nicaragua did not sign up to the deal.

What did Trump originally announce in June?

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, he characterised the Paris agreement as a deal that aimed to hobble, disadvantage and impoverish the US.

He claimed the agreement would cost the US 6.5 million jobs and $3tn (£2.2tn) in lost GDP – while rival economies like China and India were treated more favourabl

“In order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord… but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States,” he said.

During his visit to France in July, however, Mr Trump hinted that the US could shift its position on the deal – but did not elaborate.

“Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord… We’ll see what happens.”

What is now being reported?

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal quoted Mr Arias as saying that Trump administration officials said the US would not pull out of the agreement, and were offering to re-engage in the deal.

The WSJ said the shift in the position came at a meeting of environment ministers from about 30 countries at a gathering in Montreal, Canada.

That meeting was attended by a US observer.

The US “stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris Accord, but they [will] try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” Mr Canete said.

He said that “there would be a meeting on the sidelines of next week’s UN General Assembly with American representatives “to assess what is the real US position”, according to the AFP news agency.

“It’s a message which is quite different to the one we heard from President Trump in the past,” Mr Canete added.

At the same time, Chilean Environment Minister Marcelo Mena tweeted (in Spanish): “I was in the meeting, and the [US] negotiator effectively did not close the door on continuing in the agreement, and ruled out looking for a new agreement.”

But in a statement later on Saturday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “There has been no change in the United States’ position on the Paris agreement,

“As the president has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favourable to our country.”

How could this change things?

Bloomberg reported that the US is “no longer seeking to withdraw from the pact and then renegotiate it, but rather wants to re-engage with the Paris Agreement from within”.

While the White House insists its stance has not changed, deciding not to withdraw from the Paris deal and instead focus on negotiating while remaining a signatory would represent a significant about-turn.

The Los Angeles Times said staying in the Paris deal would be “one of the most controversial” reversals of the Trump presidency.

It would also risk angering Mr Trump’s more conservative supporters at a time he is facing criticism for engaging with Democratic leaders, the liberal magazine Mother Jones wrote.

Large asteroid to pass by Earth today

NASA, Asteroid Florence, asteroid Earth pass-by, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, near-earth asteroid detection, NASA asteroid mission, asteroid studies, asteroid imaging

A near-Earth asteroid about 4.4 km in size will pass safely by our planet on Friday, at a distance of about seven million km, NASA has said. Asteroid Florence – named in honour of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing – is set to pass by Earth at 8.05 a.m. ET.

“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence. They were estimated to be smaller,” said Paul Chodas, Manager of NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA programme to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began,” Chodas said. The 2017 encounter that will occur around 5.35 p.m. on Friday (India time) is the closest by this asteroid since 1890 and the closest it will ever be until after 2500.

Florence will brighten to ninth magnitude in late August and early September, when it will be visible in small telescopes for several nights as it moves through the constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus, NASA said. This relatively close encounter provides an opportunity for scientists to study this asteroid up close.

Asteroid Florence was discovered by Schelte “Bobby” Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in March 1981. Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations. Radar imaging is planned at NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The resulting radar images will show the real size of Florence and also could reveal surface details as small as about 10 metres.

A near-Earth asteroid about 4.4 km in size will pass safely by our planet on Friday, at a distance of about seven million km, NASA has said. Asteroid Florence – named in honour of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing – is set to pass by Earth at 8.05 a.m. ET.

“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence. They were estimated to be smaller,” said Paul Chodas, Manager of NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA programme to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began,” Chodas said. The 2017 encounter that will occur around 5.35 p.m. on Friday (India time) is the closest by this asteroid since 1890 and the closest it will ever be until after 2500.

Florence will brighten to ninth magnitude in late August and early September, when it will be visible in small telescopes for several nights as it moves through the constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus, NASA said. This relatively close encounter provides an opportunity for scientists to study this asteroid up close.

Asteroid Florence was discovered by Schelte “Bobby” Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in March 1981. Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations. Radar imaging is planned at NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The resulting radar images will show the real size of Florence and also could reveal surface details as small as about 10 metres.

Sleeping dragon: How this dinosaur got preserved in 3-D

When the nodosaur <em>Borealopelta markmitchelli</em> died 110 million years ago, it was swept out to sea, out of the reach of predators.

CALGARY, Alberta — While it’s impossible to say how a 112-million-year-old dinosaur died, researchers are turning themselves into sleuths to figure out how this ancient beast transformed into a stunning, 3D fossil that looks like the statue of a sleeping dragon.

Their verdict? It’s a mixture of the dinosaur’s durability (it had tough, boney armor) and the extraordinary circumstances that not only kept the beast out of the reach of scavengers, but also led to its unique fossilization, said study lead researcher Donald Henderson, curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada.

“It is the best-preserved armored dinosaur in the world,” Henderson told Live Science. “The quality of the preservation and the intact configuration make this specimen a Rosetta Stone for the interpretation of armored dinosaurs.” [Photos: This Plant-Eating Dinosaur Had Spikes, Armor and Camouflage]

The spiky dinosaur — a nodosaur, an armored relative of the ankylosaur — was discovered at the Suncor Millennium Mine in Alberta in 2011. Researchers were amazed to see that the fossil wasn’t flattened by the millions of years of rock and sediment pressing down on it.

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Instead, a combination of factors led to the exceptional 3D fossilization of the newly identified species, known as B. markmitchelli, Henderson said.

It’s unclear why the 18-foot-long (5.5 meters) animal perished, but soon after its death, B. markmitchelli was swept out into an ancient, inland seaway that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. Once there, the dinosaur drifted away from any predators on land, such as carnivorous dinosaurs, and from marine scavengers, such as freshwater crocodilians, Henderson said.

As the body decayed, it filled with gas, causing it to bloat and float far out into the seaway, away from damaging shore waves and any nearshore marine scavengers, such as crabs and bristly, carnivorous marine worms, Henderson noted.

Most dead and bloated animals explode sooner rather than later, but B. markmitchelli’s thick and armored skin likely withstood the high pressure from pent-up gas that is released as a dead animal’s internal organs decompose. This likely delayed the final rupture of the dinosaur’s body wall, the researchers said.

“The thick, prickly skin would have deterred open-water marine scavengers, such as sharks and plesiosaurs,” Henderson said. “It sank out in deep water, where there was not much in the way of animal life [because it was] too cold and dark, so not much in the way of scavengers.”

The 3,000-lb. (1,360 kilograms) nodosaur landed on its back on the seabed with a gigantic thump, leaving an impact crater where the remains sank into deep ooze on the seabed.

“This [ooze] sealed the skin with armor and scale away from what little oxygen there was, so decay was minimal,” Henderson said. This lack of decay meant the nodosaur’s scales, armor and even the pigment molecules in its skin were preserved.

However, B. markmitchelli would have decayed a little, given that the dinosaur was dead. As the remains decomposed, different compounds, such as putrescine (a foul-smelling, organic chemical that forms when amino acids break down) would have altered the seabed’s chemistry, encouraging the rapid deposition of minerals around the carcass to produce an exceptionally thick protective sarcophagus, Henderson said.

“The strength of the sarcophagus prevented the specimen from being squashed flat by the weight of a kilometer of rock that must have been above the specimen for most of the past 112 million years,” Henderson said. [Photos: See the Armored Dinosaur Named for Zuul from ‘Ghostbusters’]

Henderson and his colleagues figured out these details by observing the geology of the mine. They also inspected the sarcophagus-like structure and the sediments inside and outside the dinosaur’s body, Henderson said.

Moreover, based on the mineralogy of the rocks around the nodosaur, “we can state that the specimen came to rest on the seabed in water that was at least 50 meters [164 feet] deep,” Henderson said.

The research, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, was presented Friday (Aug. 25) here at the 2017 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting.

Lonar Lake’s surface area is shrinking: Research

Lonar lake, mumbai

The surface area of Lonar Lake in Maharashtra’s Buldhana district, formed after a meteorite hit the Earth some 50,000 years ago, is shrinking, researchers have found.

The periphery of the lake – which is a notified National Geo-heritage Monument – has moved 100 meter inward in the last three years, said a recent report by researchers of Pune-based Centre for Citizen Science (CCS). The ‘mean diameter’ of the lake is around 1.2 km.

Expressing concern over the development, the report said that depletion of water level was because of diversion of water for agricultural and non-agricultural activities in the surrounding area.

The CCS team has been studying Lonar Lake since 2003 along with scientists from the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, National Centre for Radio Astrophysics and the Indian Meteorological Department.

Located around 500 km from Mumbai, Lonar is a popular tourist hub, besides attracting scientists from all over the world. Mayuresh Prabhune, who led the team of CCS researchers, said the outer line of lake has shrunk by 100 metres since 2014.

“There are several bore wells less than 100 metres from the crater’s rim. Lonar crater is an eco-sensitive zone, but there are food joints and bore wells nearby,” he said. “Collective impact of these activities is that water supply to the lake is decreasing. With extensive diversion of water, the lake’s storage has declined sharply,” he said.

“The CCS also studied rainfall pattern in the area since 2003 and noticed that there has been no significant change in the precipitation levels,” Prabhune said. “The study found out that reduction in water level is a combined result of drying up of (nearby) percolation dam and the closure of streams (which flow) into the lake,” the report said.

Warning that “fluctuations and rapid changes” in Lonar Lake are harmful for biodiversity, Yogesh Shouche, microbiologist and CCS president, said the government should frame a special policy for its conservation.

“In a move that had green activists worried, the Centre last year shrunk the Eco-Sensitive Zone around the lake to 100 metres from the earlier 500 metres,” said Sudhakar Bugdane, member of the state government-appointed Lonar Lake Conservation Committee said.

Lonar crater lake was identified as a unique geographical site by a British officer named C J E Alexander in 1823. Geologists believe that it was formed due to a meteorite impact that occurred between 35,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Hermaphrodite wildflower has its own battle of the sexes


Petals of wildflowers called starry campions may be a pretty little battleground for a sexual skirmish between the plant’s male and female parts.

As is common in flowers, each Silene stellata bloom forms both male and female sex organs. After measuring petal variation between plants and tracking parenthood of seeds, Juannan Zhou suspected a sexual tug-of-war.

Flowers with greater male success in spreading pollen and siring seeds across a flower patch tended toward longer and narrower petals, Zhou reported June 26 at the Evolution 2017 meeting. Yet flowers that did especially well by their female organs, maturing abundant seeds in their own ovaries, tended toward wider and shorter petals.

Zhou, of the University of Maryland in College Park, pieced together the story while working in a fenced-in plot of wild campions at Mountain Lake Biological Station in southwestern Virginia. During two summers, he tracked floral details and collected seeds. He sprouted almost 2,400 seedlings and for each genetically worked out which of 227 fenced-in adults had been the father.

If a conflict smolders between what’s best for male versus female functions, parental blossom trends that went along with greater fatherhood should tilt in the opposite direction from blossom trends linked with greater motherhood. Some traits such as number of fringe tassels showed no signs of conflict, but petal dimensions did.

Zhou suggests that the contrary trends might arise from the sexes’ opposite interests in visits from one of its pollinating moths, the mottled gray-brown Hadena ectypa. These moths do much of the pollen carrying early in midsummer. One mothload of pollen typically fertilizes all the eggs a female has, so from the motherhood perspective, once is enough. More than once means more risk for little benefit, because female moths leave an unwanted gift behind.

Besides sucking nectar, a H. ectypa often sticks her rear into the cup of a flower and with a wiggle, lays an egg or two. When eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillars chew their way into the flower ovary and start feeding on the plant’s own seeds. Caterpillars eventually grow too long and fat to fit inside blooms. Certain petal shapes, Zhou speculates, might be more attractive to moths, or perhaps more discouraging for the fattest, most destructive caterpillars to invade.

From the male point of view, the loss of the home flower’s seeds could be more than recouped by repeated moth visits to pick up more pollen to spread to other flowers. More moths could mean many more offspring.

Sexual conflicts show up elsewhere in nature, such as in the compounds that fruit flies use to dope their sperm. After a jolt of these extras, females tend to put more resources into eggs and offspring. Never mind that it shortens a female’s life. Data on sexual conflicts from plants are much rarer, says evolutionary ecologist Locke Rowe of the University of Toronto. He welcomes the starry campion work also because the plants are hermaphrodites, a lifestyle uncommon in conflict studies.

Boston University students discover 1915 time capsule

Adam Mumford (CAS’18) and Emma Purtell (CGS’17, COM’19) with the time capsule found in one of the hundreds of boxes of files they were archiving for BU’s Facilities Management & Planning. Photo by Cydney Scott

Three Boston University students have found a time capsule dating back over 100 years, filled with a number of artifacts, including a 102-year old newspaper.

Emma Purtell, Sarah Mankey, and Adam Mumford uncovered the time capsule after sorting through a number of boxes filled with files at their summer job at BU’s Facilities Management & Planning (FM&P). Sorting through the loads of paperwork, they saw that a copper container the size of a toaster was nestled inside one of the boxes.

“The first thing I thought was, it’s a time capsule,” Purtell told BU Today. The time capsule dates back to June 1915, when construction began on the Commonwealth Armory, a Massachusetts Army National Guard armory.


The box had apparently been unearthed in 2002, when the armory was being demolsihed to make way for BU’s John Hancock Student Village complex, but had been forgotten about for the next 15 years.

Inside the capsule were a number of different items: a copy of the Manual of the Massachusetts General Court from 1914, a 1915 copy of the Boston Daily Advertiser newspaper, several coins, including an 1894 quarter, a map of the then-new MTA subway to Harvard Square, a document that appears to be a request for proposals for the construction of the armory, and photos of dignitaries connected to the project.

In addition, Purtell and the others found rosters of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, Battery A, First Battalion, whose home base was the armory, and a Boston Past and Present photobook.

“I’m just blown away by how good the condition of some of this stuff is, considering it’s 100-plus years old at this point,” Mumford told BU Today.


The University is now contacting the National Guard about how to properly dispose of the time capsule and the contents inside.

“It’s really rewarding, because we found this near the end of our project,” Purtell said. “And at the beginning of project, we thought, there’s no way we can get this done. There are so many boxes—how are we ever going to get through them?”

“One of the people in the office said this was like the cherry on top,” Mumford said. “The reward for all the hard work was finding this historical treasure trove.”